Developers of the planned Walt Ranch have more work to do before the controversial vineyard targeted for the mountains northeast of Napa Valley can become reality.
The county Board of Supervisors last week set aside a greenhouse gas mitigation finding for the project to comply with a county Superior Court order.
Walt Ranch is to make up for the loss of 14,000 carbon-sequestering trees and greenhouse gas-generating activities by preserving woodlands. But last September, the 1st District Court of Appeal questioned whether the woodlands to be preserved as mitigation are in danger of being cut down.
The appellate upheld the lower court’s decision that the county-approved environmental impact report adequately addresses groundwater supplies, rare species protections and other issues.
Walt Ranch wants to mitigate for greenhouse gas emissions by permanently protecting 248 acres of woodlands. The appeals court wants specifics, given the possibility that mitigation could take place on the Walt Ranch itself.
“The (Walt Ranch) property itself is undeveloped, but over 40% of the property is not developable under local regulations,” said a 1st District Court of Appeal ruling from September 2019.
The Court of Appeal sent the matter back to Napa County Superior Court, which on May 6 sent it back to the Napa County Board of Supervisors.
David Morrison, the county’s Planning, Building and Environmental Services director, said the applicants can make another greenhouse gas mitigation proposal to the county.
On Monday, Mike Reynolds said on behalf of Walt Ranch they had been waiting for the Board of Supervisors action. Now they will put together a plan to address the court’s concerns.
In the meantime, the applicant can’t do work on the project that would cause greenhouse gas emissions, a county report said. Construction of the project would generate emissions through such activities as using equipment, tilling soil and cutting down 14,000 carbon-sequestering trees.
Walt Ranch is 2,300 acres located near the rural community of Circle Oaks, in between the city of Napa and Lake Berryessa. The county in 2016 approved 209 acres of vineyards within 316 acres of land disturbance.
Craig and Kathryn Hall of HALL Wines in St. Helena are spearheading the project, with Hall Brambletree Associates, LP listed as the applicant.
The Center for Biological Diversity, Living Rivers Council, Sierra Club, Circle Oaks County Water District and Circle Oaks Homes Association sued to overturn the approvals. Of the numerous points raised, the courts sided with the challengers only on the greenhouse gas issue.
Supervisors during their hearing last week heard no public comments, though Sue Wagner of Circle Oaks submitted a letter.
Wagner wrote that Walt Ranch must completely address the project’s greenhouse gas emissions. She also noted the county’s recently stated goal to increase transparency in government operations.
“I look forward to your assurances that concerned Napa County residents will be included in this process,” Wagner wrote.
It was unclear last week if the Board of Supervisors would have to approve proposed, new Walt Ranch greenhouse gas mitigation. The Board’s 2016 approval of the project’s erosion control plan came on appeal, with Morrison as director of Planning, Building and Environmental Services originally granting approval.
The Walt Ranch issue has generated much public attention. Opponents have held it up as a prime example of vineyards being created in watersheds by cutting down oaks and other woodlands.
Napa County began environmental analysis of the proposed project in 2008. According to court records, the project by 2016 had generated more than 60,000 pages of administrative records, with the environmental impact report topping 5,000 pages and public comments topping 3,700 pages.
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You can reach Barry Eberling at 256-2253 or email@example.com.
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